Monthly Archives: January 2017

Woods draws comfort from improved form at Torrey Pines

REUTERS: Shaking off rust was a priority for Tiger Woods in his first PGA Tour event in 17 months and the former world number one was encouraged by his improvement over two rounds, despite missing the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open on Friday.

While some critics feel that Woods still needs to make technical adjustments to his swing after being sidelined by back pain and spine surgery, the 41-year-old dwelt on the positives after shooting a level-par 72 in the second round at Torrey Pines outside San Diego.

“I hit it much better today,” Woods told reporters after posting a four-over total of 148 to miss the cut by four strokes. “I made a couple of little tweaks and changes in my swing and my set-up which was good.

“Good communication between (caddie) Joey (LaCava) and I out there while playing, what he’s seeing and what I’m feeling. It was good. He’s rusty as well. I’m rusty.

“I felt like I made some nice strides, just wish I could be playing at the weekend because I really love this golf course.”

Woods has fond memories of Torrey Pines, where he has won the PGA Tour event a record seven times and also the 2008 U.S. Open at the same venue for the last of his 14 major titles.

However, he faced an uphill task in his bid to make the cut after he had struggled to a four-over 76 in the opening round with a rusty and often erratic display.

All too often, Woods leaked shots out to the right in that first round on the more difficult South Course, paying a steep price for persisting with attempts to draw the ball from right to left.

“He loves to go for that draw and it just wasn’t coming back,” said six-times major winner Nick Faldo, an analyst for Golf Channel. “Yet he hit a couple of great shots in that first round… when he was trying to play a low fade.

“I think that does so many good things to his body, it gets him in the right place, gets him through impact. Otherwise he aims so far left and starts the ball so far right, he is fighting things.”

For Woods, the cold, wet conditions at Torrey Pines were also a big concern.

“It’s a long process in the mornings, trying to get ready, trying to get warmed up,” he said. “The tall order then is just to stay warm and stay loose… and I did.

“Playing tournament golf is a little bit different from playing with your buddies back home in a cart. I need to get more rounds under my belt.”

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in St Augustine, Florida; Editing by John O’Brien)

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EU pushes to break deadlock on migration

BRUSSELS: The European Union is looking at new proposals to handle asylum seekers arriving on its soil, hoping to end more than a year of wrangling that has undermined its unity, officials and diplomats said.

EU leaders have given themselves until mid-year to come to an agreement on the stalled reform of asylum rules. They are at loggerheads over how to handle an influx of refugees that has triggered rows, notably between Germany and Mediterranean states on the one hand, and easterners Poland and Hungary on the other.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said after talks with EU counterparts this week they were looking at a three-tier system for low, high and very high volumes of arrivals.

In the first instance, the current rules would mostly apply, including a key proviso that the first EU country through which a person arrives in the bloc must handle their case.

This is precisely what led to the build-up of an excessive strain on the Mediterranean EU states during a 2015 influx. Hence, diplomats said of the latest proposals on the table, for times of high arrivals that rule would no longer apply.

The EU would have a mix of tools from relocation of asylum seekers to other countries in the bloc, to assistance in cash and equipment, or offering expert help.

“There should be a level of acceptance in every area. It’s not a question that one member state might opt out from a particular, important area,” said Carmelo Abela, interior minister of Malta, the current chair of EU meetings.

GERMANY VS POLAND

Around 1.5 million refugees and migrants reached Europe in 2015 and 2016, overrunning frontline states Greece and Italy, and mostly heading to the wealthy Germany, Austria and Sweden.

These countries called on other EU states to help by taking some of the asylum seekers in. But Poland and Hungary refuse, instead offering other assistance.

Poland’s nationalist-minded, eurosceptic government strongly rejects any compulsory sharing of asylum seekers.

Berlin has threatened to go for majority rather than unanimous voting on the asylum reform, which would override Polish and Hungarian objections. Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Warsaw next month to press for a deal.

But the Polish government has also used pressure from Brussels and Berlin to beef up its own support among anti-migration and eurosceptic constituencies.

“Germany should know that the more they push, the more consolidation they get in Poland,” one Polish diplomatic source said.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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Ponting predicts Australia will struggle in India

MELBOURNE: Australia will struggle on their tour of India where they will play four tests against the world’s top-ranked side in spin-friendly conditions, former captain Ricky Ponting has predicted.

Steve Smith’s men will travel to India next month having been beaten 4-0 four years ago.

They were also whitewashed 3-0 in Sri Lanka last August in similar conditions prompting Ponting to issue a grim outlook for the team.

“I think they’ll struggle,” the 42-year-old, who played 168 tests for Australia told Sky Sports Radio. “Every team that goes there struggles.

“It’s become harder and harder for visiting teams to go to India. They probably make wickets to suit them more than ever before.”

The last time India lost a test at home was against England at the end of 2012 and Virat Kohli’s side have won their last five series to climb to the top of the test rankings.

South Africa, New Zealand and England have all lost series in India in the last 15 months and Australia’s last success in the country was in 2004 when they won a four-test series 2-1.

“I went there for a lot of tours and we obviously played in some tough conditions,” added Ponting. “But the wickets were good for the first couple of days of the game and then they started to turn.

“But now, even looking at what happened in Sri Lanka, whenever the Australian team tours anywhere on the subcontinent you can guarantee the wicket is going to turn, and turn quite a bit, from day one of the game.”

Following the 3-0 drubbing in Sri Lanka, Australia’s test team plunged into a crisis with successive home defeats to South Africa. After a national outcry forced wholesale changes, they recovered by winning the final test against South Africa in Adelaide before beating Pakistan 3-0.

“The challenges are going to be there for the Aussie team,” Ponting said. “Unlike what happened in Sri Lanka, as long as they can find a way to be competitive in the test series.

“Even if we don’t win, I don’t think it’d be that big of a deal.

“It’s a real learning curve for our guys now to find a balance between playing the Australian way but (also) adapting that to Indian conditions.”

The first test starts in Pune on Feb. 23 and is followed by matches in Bangalore, Ranchi and Dharamsala.

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Greg Stutchbury)

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Trump meets with Republicans in reassurance bid

PHILADELPHIA: Donald Trump made his maiden voyage outside the Washington area as US president on Thursday (Jan 26), meeting with lawmakers to map out their 2017 policy strategy and smooth emerging differences between the White House and congressional Republicans.

“This Congress is going to be the busiest Congress we’ve had in decades – maybe ever,” Trump told hundreds of House and Senate Republicans at their winter retreat in Philadelphia.

He spoke of booting “criminal aliens” from the United States, launching new one-to-one trade deals rather than sweeping regional pacts, bringing “justice” to American workers, and building a wall on the border with Mexico, an issue which triggered a row Thursday between the two nations.

One of Trump’s main messages was an assurance that he is committed to a longstanding and cherished Republican goal: dismantling his predecessor Barack Obama’s health care reforms.

“Our legislative work starts with repealing and replacing Obamacare,” Trump said to a cheer. “We’re actually going to sign the stuff that you’re writing. You’re not wasting your time.”

Trump’s arguments over inauguration crowd size, his war of words with the media, and a revival of his claim of massive voter fraud has led to concerns within his own party that he is straying off message right from the start.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan insisted there was little gap between his Republican caucus in the House and the new president.

“We are on the same page with the White House,” Ryan told reporters, speaking about the Republican “timetable and legislative agenda” for the year.

‘UNCONVENTIONAL PRESIDENCY’

He acknowledged the unorthodox nature of the Trump presidency, but dismissed suggestions that the president’s brash communication style was making Republicans bristle.

“This is going to be an unconventional presidency,” Ryan said. “I think we’re going to see unconventional activities like tweets and things like that, and I think that’s just something we’re all going to have to get used to.”

For his part, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he intended to “stick to the plan and make as much progress as we can.”

But he appeared to take a firm stand on Trump’s declaration that torture “absolutely” works, and that the president will consider reintroducing enhanced interrogation techniques that have been widely condemned by Democrats and Republicans alike.

“I believe virtually all of my members are comfortable with the state of the law on that issue now,” he said, referring to legislation that barred interrogation techniques like waterboarding.

British Prime Minister Theresa May was to address the Republican gathering later Thursday, before travelling to Washington, where on Friday she will become the first foreign leader to meet Trump since he took office.

‘PEOPLE ARE VERY UPSET’

Several thousand protesters meanwhile converged on the streets of Philadelphia.

As Trump arrived, people booed, chanted anti-Trump slogans, and held signs with messages like “Resist” and “Dissent is Patriotic.”

Lisa Gottschalk, an immunologist, said Trump will not be able to ignore the frustrations of Americans who see him rolling back Obama-era policies which they see as important.

“People are very upset,” the 55-year-old told AFP. “He may not hear our message now, but come 2018, he will hear it,” Gottschalk said, referring to mid-term elections.

Joshua Roberts, a cancer patient on medical leave from his job at Drexel University, said he was protesting out of concern for Republican plans to repeal Obamacare, a move he said would hurt “millions” of Americans with pre-existing conditions.

Roberts, 55, said he hoped Trump would stick to his goal of keeping the provision prohibiting insurance companies from declining coverage due to pre-existing conditions. But “I certainly don’t trust the president much at all,” he said.

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West Ham's Gold vents frustration at Chelsea fixture switch

REUTERS: West Ham’s joint-chairman David Gold has voiced his frustration with broadcasters for moving games at short notice after his team’s Premier League clash against Chelsea was pushed back two days to March 6 in the latest round of television picks.

The Premier League sold its latest television rights for more than five billion pounds in 2015 with Sky securing 168 live games and BT Sport 42.

Gold agreed on social media with a supporter protesting that fans suffered when matches were moved, saying: “We don’t move the game Sky do. We hate it as much as you.”

West Ham’s previous match against London rivals Chelsea in October was marred in fan violence which led to more than 50 home supporters being banned from the London Stadium.

The club and stadium operators will increase the number of stewards and police and ensure wider separations between rival supporters in an effort to avoid a repeat at the rematch.

(Reporting by Shravanth Vijayakumar in Bengaluru)

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Is Trump's wall project feasible?

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump has signed an executive order designed to start fulfilling his campaign pledge to build a wall along the US border with Mexico.

The stated goal of this gargantuan project is to keep out undocumented migrants, drugs and criminals. Here is a look at the feasibility of erecting such a barrier.

HOW MUCH WOULD IT COST?

Billions. But exactly how much is not known.

Part of the 2,000-mile (3,200km) border — 653 miles of it, to be exact — already features fencing that blocks people and/or vehicles. But just building 413 more miles of fencing would cost US$ 11.4 billion, according to the Washington Office on Latin America, a non-profit research and rights group that quoted an estimate by US Customs and Border Protection.

Trump himself has been vague about the cost. His estimates have ranged from US$ 4 billion to “around US$ 10 billion.” But architects and engineers have said it would cost much, much more.

In an article entitled “Bad Math Props up Trump’s Border Wall,” MIT Technology Review estimated late last year that a 1,000-mile steel and concrete wall would cost US$ 27 to US$ 40 billion.

The review put it this way: “Set aside the questions of whether it’s wise to put a wall along the US-Mexico border or who should pay for it. It simply can’t be done at the price Donald Trump has claimed.”

WHERE WOULD HE GET THE MONEY?

This is not very clear, either.

For now, the White House can only divert existing funds toward the project. The Republican-controlled Congress would need to supply new money if the wall is to be anywhere near completed. And Trump’s party has spent the last decade preaching fiscal prudence.

Trump’s executive order instructs Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to: “Identify and, to the extent permitted by law, allocate all sources of Federal funds for the planning, designing, and constructing of a physical wall along the southern border.”

It also requests that he: “Project and develop long-term funding requirements for the wall, including preparing Congressional budget requests for the current and upcoming fiscal years.”

“There are a lot of funding mechanisms that can be used,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Wednesday (Jan 25).

“At this point his goal is to get the project started as quickly as possible using funds and resources that the department currently has, and then to move forward and work with Congress on an appropriations schedule,” Spicer said.

Trump has vowed repeatedly to make Mexico pay for the wall, perhaps by dipping into the remittances that Mexican migrants send home. These totalled US$ 25 billion last year.

But Mexico has categorically ruled out paying for the wall or reimbursing the United States for it.

WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE?

Trump’s executive order defines the proposed wall as “a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier”.

At one point Trump had called for prefabricated concrete panels reinforced with steel rods, heavy materials that present immense logistical challenges: paving roads for access, building multiple sites for pouring concrete and hiring armies of workers over several years.

The wall would require foundations deep enough to ensure stability and discourage tunneling.

Again, that means lots of money.

A 40-foot concrete wall using a “post and panel” system sunk 10 feet below ground would cost at least US$ 26 billion, according to Todd Sternfeld, CEO of a Texas company that makes precast concrete fence and barrier products.

OTHER OBSTACLES TO THE WALL

Take the Rio Grande River, for instance. It forms the natural border between Mexico and Texas. Laws prohibit construction that would impede flood management or interfere with the sharing of resources. And a treaty bars either country from diverting any flow of water.

What is more, Trump cannot just do as he pleases with the land along the border because much of it is privately owned. So building a wall would entail messy legal proceedings, political blowback, and substantial expropriation payments.

DO AMERICANS LIKE THE IDEA?

They seem divided by the wall. A Morning Consult/Politico poll released Wednesday said 47 per cent of voters support building a wall, with 45 per cent against.

Critics say the wall proposal is pointless because, among other things, most drugs smuggled into the United States pass through legal entry points and are not transported through the desert.

And if the goal is to keep out unauthorised migrants, that flow is already down to near the level of the early 1970s, according to the Washington Office on Latin America.

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Woods now a TaylorMade man

REUTERS: Tiger Woods will return to the PGA Tour this week as a member of the TaylorMade stable after announcing on Wednesday that he had made the switch after years of using Nike equipment.

“After several months of testing and all brands to choose from, the choice is clearly @TaylorMadeGolf. Proud to join the family!” Woods wrote on his twitter account.

The American, who won his 14 major titles endorsing Nike, was forced to switch when the sportswear and equipment giant decided to get out of the hard goods part of the golf business.

While Woods will be swinging new clubs, he will continue to wear Nike’s familiar swoosh on his golfing apparel

Sidelined by back pain for the past 15 months, Woods launches his official comeback on Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in southern California, an event he has won seven times.

Woods also captured the 2008 U.S. Open there on one of his favourite layouts.

He joins a TaylorMade team that includes Australian world number one Jason Day and American U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson.

The 41-year-old American has not played an official money event since Aug. 2015 and pulled out of a planned return at the first tournament of the 2016-17 season in northern California in October.

He said then that his game was not ready but subsequently made his comeback at the Hero World Challenge, an unofficial PGA Tour event, in the Bahamas in December where he finished 15th in an 18-man field.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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Italy arrests four suspected leaders of human trafficking and prostitution ring

ROME: Italian police on Wednesday arrested four men accused of being the leaders of a human trafficking ring which smuggled people from Africa to Europe and forced women into the sex trade upon arrival in Italy.

Another two men were arrested on suspicion of financially supporting the network and selling illegal drugs. The group, which was headquartered in Padua in northern Italy, had accomplices in Nigeria, Libya and Sicily.

Police said the network ran an “extremely lucrative” operation. Telephone conversations between ring members and traffickers in Libya revealed large numbers of people hoping to be taken across the sea to Europe are being held captive near the Libyan capital Tripoli in appalling conditions.

“They are massed together to wait in captivity as price negotiations are completed and the payment is made (for the boat journey), during which time they are subjected to all types of abuse, from starvation to beatings to sexual assault,” the police said in a statement.

Police said it began investigating the suspects in June after a Nigerian girl, a minor, informed officers that she had been smuggled to Italy and upon arrival was held captive and forced into prostitution. She had been held by the ring near the Sicilian city of Ragusa.

Among the record 181,000 all the migrants who reached Italy by boat last year, more than a fifth were Nigerian. A half-million migrants have arrived on Italians shores since the start of 2014.

Humanitarian groups say the number of illegal migrants being forced into prostitution in Italy is rising.

(Reporting by Steve Schere; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Correa ally leads Ecuador election polls, but second round likely

QUITO: Ecuador’s ruling leftist party candidate leads voting intentions in the small Andean country ahead of presidential elections next month, but does not have enough support to win in the first round, two recent polls showed.

After recent major losses for Latin America’s leftist bloc, Ecuador’s election is being scrutinized for a potential further setback as the end of a regional commodities boom and corruption scandals fuel voters’ desire for change.

Lenin Moreno, 63, a disabled career politician who uses a wheelchair, has garnered support with vows to continue popular president Rafael Correa’s social programs, but the ballot seems increasingly likely to spill over to a second round in April.

Some 34.3 percent of voters plan to vote for Moreno, a former vice president and United Nations special envoy on disability, pollster Cedatos said on Monday night.

Around 22.9 percent support Guillermo Lasso, a conservative banker and former economy minister, while 11.4 percent back Cynthia Viteri, a center-right lawyer and lawmaker, the poll showed.

To win in the first round on Feb. 19, a candidate needs to secure a majority of all valid votes or win over 40 percent of them and pocket a 10 point difference with the closest rival.

Worryingly for the ruling Country Alliance party, voting intentions for Moreno have slid from 37 percent in October while support for his rivals has grown, Cedatos said.

“The probability of a second round is stronger by the day,” Cedatos head Polibio Cordova told local TV station Ecuavisa.

The Cedatos poll, of 2,120 people between Jan. 16-23, did not survey voting intentions for a potential second round on April 2.

Separately, pollster Market on Sunday also placed Moreno ahead of the pack with 28.17 percent of voting intentions, according to a survey of 9,120 people conducted between Jan. 18-20. Viteri and Lasso were close at 17.98 percent and 16.57 percent respectively.

As a corruption scandal involving Ecuador’s national oil company and Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht grows, analysts see a significant chance of Moreno losing down the line.

“While a Lasso second-round victory remains our base case, Viteri would also likely beat Moreno in a run-off, as the opposition will mostly rally around a single candidate and voter discontent will remain high,” Eurasia consultancy said in a report last week.

Some 12.8 million Ecuadoreans will vote to elect a president and 137 lawmakers for a four-year period.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Andrew Hay)

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DR Congo top Group C with 3-1 win over Togo

PORT GENTIL, Gabon: Junior Kabananga kept up his goal-scoring form at the African Nations Cup to help send the Democratic Republic of Congo into the quarter-finals as they beat Togo 3-1 on Tuesday and finished top of Group C.

The tall striker, whose participation was confirmed only at the last minute, is now the leading scorer at the tournament after he netted the opening goal in the 29th minute.

There were second-half contributions from Ndombe Mubele and Paul-Jose Mpoku while Kodjo Laba pulled one back for Togo, who finished last in the group standings with a single point.

DR Congo amassed seven points and will play the team who finish second on Wednesday in Group D in the weekend quarter-finals.

Kabananga has now scored in all three Group C games, his latest goal coming as he ran on to a superb defence-splitting pass from Newcastle United’s Chancel Mbemba, though he still needed to shrug off defender Serge Gakpe before steering home the ball.

The 27-year-old Kabananga had originally been left out of the Congolese 23-man squad for the tournament in Gabon but a change of heart by coach Florent Ibenge saw the Kazakhstan-based forward included just before the deadline for the submission of the players’ list expired.

He might have had another goal just before halftime with a looping header that hit the inside of the post before bouncing out.

DR Congo doubled their lead in the 54th minute as Mubele beat the offside trap and chipped the goalkeeper.

Togo, who had to win to stand any chance of progress, pulled one back as substitute Laba drove in his first touch from close range.

However, a curling free kick in the 80th minute from Mpoku restored the two-goal advantage.

Togo’s failure to qualify marked only the second time in eight tournaments that veteran coach Claude Le Roy, who has been to more Nations Cups than any other, has failed to place a team in the last eight.

It was also the last international for Emmanuel Adebayor, their talismanic captain, who was denied a consolation goal in stoppage time when Merveille Bope cleared off the line.

After the final whistle, the Congolese team formed a guard of honour to applaud Adebayor off the field.

(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Clare Fallon)

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